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on 25 June 2016
James Baldwin's short novel "Giovanni's Room". It's about a young man struggling with his sexuality. Published in the 50s, and set in France.

Although I am straight, and have never been remotely interested in men...I have a sympathy for anyone going through any kind of emotional turmoil.

David, the narrator, has a sentience which is impossible to me, and every moment would be painful if I was that aware of my feelings...but it's Baldwin's psychological clarity which is the punch of the book. Its USP.

David finds himself, loses himself, and breaks the continuity with his old life and American destiny in a grubby little room belonging to the charismatic Giovanni. In France, homosexuality was permissible, unlike in the UK, but people's dalliances and relationships were mostly clandestine and hidden away from the respectable veneer of society. Young men, knowing their life could never be accepted in the mainstream, find themselves at the mercy of poorly paid jobs, with no future. And many rely on the patronage of wealthy men, who prey on them in the shadows of Paris.

That Baldwin was a black man, living in Paris, is notable. But despite the obvious struggles Baldwin must have faced in America and France with his ethnicity, there isn't a trace of that in the book. But there is an intensity to sexual politics. And the character of David's girlfriend, Hella, is drawn with sympathetic attention to her own struggles, both as a woman...and as someone who realises the person she loves, she didn't really know at all.
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VINE VOICEon 8 January 2018
The story of a man, clearly Baldwin himself, torn by both homophobia, partly absorbed into himself by society and racism, for Baldwin was black and his society unforgiving on his sexuality in particular. The action of the work is largely in Paris, a more accepting area. There are some seamy, distasteful characters (not Baldwin himself), but we find these in all our lives. One thing I do find distasteful is that, in earlier gay literature, someone concerned is expected to die, an indicator of internalised shame and disgust, or so I suspect. France, a more forgiving area, like Italy, was a common area for American and other gays to find an escape. Most recently these have included Gore Vidal, another recommended author.
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on 1 August 2013
The book is set in Paris. The main character is David, an American living in the city. He meets and falls in love with Giovanni, a 'beautiful' Italian waiter. Their love is intense and passionate, yet all is not well. David is affianced to a woman (Hella) who is traveling Europe to 'discover herself'. As David and Hella finalise their marriage plans, Giovanni's world falls apart with tragic consequences.

The book is packed with scenes of Old World coquetry, juicy repartee and riveting conversation between lovers. I wonder how often Woody Allen has read Giovanni's room. I was so captivated by Baldwin's prose that I read the entire book in three hours. Giovanni's Room shows James Baldwin at his finest - in supreme control of the English language. Using the language, Baldwin paints a vivid, rich and compelling narrative about the joys, pains and contradictions in homosexual love. I salute James Baldwin's achievement.
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on 20 May 2013
One of my favourite books of all time. This is a beautiful and compelling meditation on the nature of love, regardless of who it is you fall in love with. It's about doing the right thing, and how the right thing might be impossible; it's also about the regret of not being true to yourself through ignoring the inevitable.
Baldwin's prose though, is what makes this a stand out classic. His craftsmanship is, at times, breath-taking; whether he is describing the less salubrious districts of Paris or the tortured workings of the protagonist's desires, his style is sharp, beautifully precise and leaves a lasting impression.
I can not recommend this book highly enough; it is certainly one that reverberates through the years and leaves a lasting impression.
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on 5 August 2010
This was a book that brought back memories of the sixties and seventies. Baldwin had written a 'black' novel - 'Go Tell it on the Mountain' - and now wrote a gay novel, which as far as I could tell didn't combine the two. The hero never mentions colour, and gives a very believable account of a man who is living on the cusp between gay and straight life. We feel that he is really far more at home in the gay milieu, but occasionally escapes by going through the motions of a straight life. He comes across as rather selfish, but very human. There are wonderful moments when motives are stripped bare, as when Giovanni - the lover of the narrator - is crudely cast aside by the rich older man who he has become dependent upon. A very good read, transcending its era, yet authentically conjuring it up.
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on 4 December 2011
I became totally absorbed in the story about David and his failed relationships. Baldwin writes with an intensity, as if his character's thoughts and actions were put to paper in one sitting. His language is poetic and precise.

The relationships fail because of David's fear of being honest to himself and others, and because of the fear of the reaction of others.

It is a gay-themed story set in the 1950s but David is also Everyman. The times and attitudes may have changed but Baldwin's story is not a museum piece.

This is not an uplifting story but is still recommended.
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on 15 June 2016
I have avoided reading this book for as long as I can remember, and for no other reason than I thought it would be boring. I was wrong. The characters are so real and I relate to them in many ways. I do not want to waffle on for ever. Please just read the book. You will not be disappointed.
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on 13 September 2013
Starting this book you are given the choice as to read the introduction and know the sad and tragic events within or to postpone this till read. I first read this at 17 and felt knocked over by it and strangely cant remember what decision I took then. This time I read the intro which helped me prepare for the depressing, inevitable spiral of doom the couple experience and its true to say that I experienced a great high when Giovanni first pulls the American down to his bed and for a time they are abandoned in their expression of passionate love. I was strongly aware of the spectre of James Baldwin himself in the writing working from whatever experience he could but imagine the hostilities of the American society in 1956 to a black and homosexual writer. The emotions of the American and aquaintances in the Parisian bars he describes are as prevalent today. What isn't prevalent at all is an Italian barman, as complete in behaviour,intellect and conversation as Giovanni which enables them to start a relationship so romantically but it makes me crave and demand a world where same sex couples are encouraged to stay together and not pulled apart by friends and society but to feel complete as they are. If James Baldwin returned today he would be disappointed surely.
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on 14 May 2014
I bought Giovanni's Room after hearing someone talk about it in a reality show. I've given it 5 stars because it was such a moving story about a young man trying to identify his sexuality. It's a very intense audio book based in the 1950s when homosexuality was looked upon as seedy and perverted. It's a powerful, emotional, moving novel. The ending wasn't what I expected, brilliant. I would recommend this audio book to everyone.
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on 18 January 2017
Great book, something very different to anything I've read before, and very different from The Fire Next Time. Interesting and gripping, got it finished very quickly.
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